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The dangers and costs of America's aging oil and gas pipelines

Leak at Texas ranch shows crisis facing the country
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Posted at 1:29 PM, Jun 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-25 16:29:46-04

MONAHANS, Texas -- Every day millions of oil and gas wells perform just like they are supposed to in the United States, providing the energy that helps fuel the American economy.

However, when something does go wrong, it creates fear and anxiety for anyone who lives nearby.

ANTINA RANCH LEAK

"We are at the bottom of an ancient sea," Sarah Stogner said, she is an energy lawyer in Midland, Texas.

Stogner is taking us on a tour of her client's ranch about an hour outside of Midland in an area rich in natural resources.

The first stop is an active leak at one of the old wells on the 20,000-acre ranch.

"We actively have a well flowing uncontrolled to the surface," Stogner said as she walks to the site.

Stogner points out that the water coming out is actually brine.

"We are going to have to monitor the ground water," Stogner said.

"It has benzene in it. I'm not a doctor, but we know benzene is a carcinogen," Stogner said.

"The biggest thing that caused this is the well was drilled in the 1940s, it's been in the ground for 60-something years, it has been exposed to heat, pressure, and chemicals that degrade the quality of the steel pipe," Stogner added.

CONCERN BY RANCH OWNER AND CLEANUP

Ashley Williams Watt owns this ranch and says having an active leak on your property is especially concerning.

"I don't know what's in that water," Williams Watt said.

Williams Watt is concerned about her cattle, which graze the ranch and drink the groundwater.

"I have no confidence that it's drinkable," Williams Watt said.

This leak is being cleaned up by Chevron, who says they are "taking responsibility" for the leak even though they recently sold the mineral rights on the ranch to another company.

Officials with Chevron say they are committed to protecting the environment and indicated their latest lab results show the cattle are safe because the drinking water meets standards.

After our visit to the ranch, Chevron says they successfully stopped the leak and are continuing to work at the property.

NATIONWIDE PROBLEM

What's happening at the Antina Ranch is a microcosm of a growing issue facing the United States.

While any leak is a cause for concern, what has energy and government officials even more worried are old wells with issues that have no company claiming responsibility.

According to the EPA, there are an estimated 2 million abandoned and unplugged oil and gas wells across the United States.

When a site doesn’t have an owner willing to clean it up, they are often known as "orphan wells."

Because orphan wells pose a danger, state governments are forced to clean them up.

Each orphan well cleanup costs taxpayers around $20,000.

President Biden has proposed in his American Jobs plan $16 billion to cleanup old oil and gas sites, although it remains unclear if that plan will pass in Congress.

As for Stogner, she just hopes the country gets a handle on the aging energy infrastructure soon.

"We have to fix this," Stogner said.